Friday, December 17, 2010

Magic Moments of Truce

Recently I read David McCollough's 1776, a riveting look at the war of independence following the legendary Battle of Lexington and Concord -- from the Redcoats' retreat from Boston through the Christmas Day when George Washington advanced on Hessian recruits near Philadelphia. I have never spent much time reading about military subjects or viewing war films, as I have a seriously low violence threshold. But I was able to absorb, through McCullough's telling, the experiences of General Washington (his doubts and his hopes for the success of his ragtag army and the new country's independence) and the first-hand accounts of the foot soldiers drawn from New England's fields and towns freshly engaged in battle. The nitty-gritty founding of our nation came alive as never before.

And this reading sent me off to look again at the war-related books in our library. I found my perspective had changed. I still believe I am a pacifist by nature but I am more able to read sympathetically about the war experience, particularly from the viewpoint of individuals engaged in battle. And I was reminded of a recent addition to our collection: Jim Murphy's Truce. Truce is a stunning narrative describing the remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914, when German soldiers and Allied troops stepped forward to meet unarmed in the No Man's Land separating their battle lines. While the concept of a truce in the midst of battle wasn't new (truces were arranged to allow each side to bury their dead and remove wounded soldiers), this truce was unofficial, embarked on by small groups and some regiments of soldiers on Christmas Day without the approval of high command: "In the end, however, it was peace that won the day as hundreds of thousands of soldiers simply decided, despite direct orders to the contrary, that they weren't going to fight... There was a realization on both sides that something truly extraordinary had taken place." Though in some places the truce lasted into spring, fighting did resume. War continued "as usual."

This book caused me, as did 1776, to consider anew the role of the front-line soldier in a war -- his or her commitment to risk and to battle when others are calling the shots. Extraordinary, truce or no truce.

A picture book interpretation of this remarkable truce is captured in story and song
by John McCutcheon, with illustrations by Henri Sorenson: